BREVARD HISTORY: Melbourne Orlando International Airport Started as Air Mail Fueling Stop in 1928
By Space Coast Daily // September 24, 2023
began in 1928 when a Pitcairn Aircraft landed on a cow pasture strip
Melbourne Orlando International Airport now an award-winning airport, crowned #1 Most Scenic Airport in North America.
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Melbourne Orlando International Airport (MLB) has a rich history on the Space Coast and has become a major economic driver and high tech hub since its founding almost 100 years ago.
Melbourne Orlando International Airport is an award-winning airport, crowned #1 Most Scenic Airport in North America by PrivateFly.com, and serves as the Coastal Gateway to Central Florida.
Air service growth has sparked a major terminal project that will provide an ultimate travel experience for all airport customers. MLB is globally recognized as an epicenter of aerospace as the home to Northrop Grumman, L3Harris, Embraer, Collins Aerospace, and more.
In addition to evolving air service from Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, Allegiant has announced new routes to Pittsburgh, Nashville and Concord, N.C. began in November, and MLB will become TUI UK’s Florida gateway beginning this year.
MLB’s $72 million Terminal Renovation and Expansion Project include the addition of 86,000 square feet of new facilities, including a new security checkpoint, an expanded departure area with new gates, restaurants, retail options and furniture, an expanded international baggage claim, a new welcome center, and four sets of new restroom facilities.
The added facilities will accommodate the airport’s anticipated influx of 150,000 new international travelers its first year of operation.
MLB is a public airport that is governed by a seven-member board appointed by the Melbourne City Council and the private sector, and led by executive director Greg Donovan, A.A.E. The airport budget is part of the Melbourne municipal budget as the airport receives no local tax dollars.
Began as an Airmail Fueling Stop
Melbourne International Airport began in 1928 when a Pitcairn Aircraft landed on a cow pasture strip north of Kissimmee Highway. Airmail service started in late 1928 when the airport was designated a fueling stop.
In 1933 the City of Melbourne acquired 160 acres west of Indian River Bluff to develop as a new airport, which was further developed and operated as Naval Air Station Melbourne during World War II.
Returned to the city as a Surplus Property Airport after the war, Melbourne Airport was deeded to the city in 1947. It was a municipal airport until 1967 when the city created the Melbourne Airport Authority to plan, operate, maintain, and develop the airport, then called Melbourne Municipal Airport.
The name was Cape Kennedy Regional Airport and city officials changed the name to Melbourne Regional Airport in 1973 to better reflect its role.
In January 1951, the airport had runways 04/22, 09/27, 13/31 and 16/34, all being listed as being 4,000 to 4,300 feet long and scheduled airline flights began in 1953. The April 1957 Official Airline Guide listed four Eastern Airlines departures, Martin 4-0-4s to Vero Beach, Daytona Beach and Jacksonville.
National Airlines arrived in 1959 with Douglas DC-6Bs and scheduled the first jet airliner flights in 1963: Douglas DC-8s Miami-Melbourne-New Orleans-Houston-Los Angeles and Los Angeles-Houston-Melbourne-Miami.
In 1960, Meadowlane Elementary School first opened at a Naval hospital on the airport grounds and the school moved to West Melbourne in 1961. In 1969, a National DC-8 flew Los Angeles-Tampa-Melbourne-Miami. Houston and Los Angeles figured in NASA’s space program, and Melbourne was close to the NASA Kennedy Space Center.
In July 1974 a National Boeing 727 flew Miami-Melbourne-Tampa-New Orleans-Los Angeles-San Diego; National Boeing 727-200s flew direct Houston and New Orleans to Melbourne. In May 1979 National had one flight a day from Melbourne, a 727-200 to Tampa.
Serving the ‘Space Corridor’
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Eastern Airlines Boeing 727s, Douglas DC-9s and Lockheed Electras flew out of the airport. In June 1967 Eastern announced “The Space Corridor” from Melbourne to three centers in the space program: Huntsville, Alabama, St. Louis and Seattle.
Eastern’s “Space Corridor” was a Melbourne-Orlando-Huntsville-St. Louis-Seattle Boeing 727-100. In June 1967 Eastern flew nonstop from Melbourne to Atlanta, Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale and direct to New York City (JFK Airport), Washington, D.C. (Dulles Airport), Boston and Miami.
In February 1976 Eastern flew a 727 direct Los Angeles to Melbourne via Atlanta; Eastern eventually dropped Melbourne upon the airline’s closure in 1991.
In the early 1980s, some ending scenes for the film Stranger Than Paradise were shot in the Melbourne area, including several plot scenes shot at the airport.
People Express Airlines started nonstops to Newark, Baltimore, Columbus and Buffalo, New York in spring 1982 with Boeing 737 jets. They eventually scaled back to just nonstops to Newark and ended service to MLB in 1986.
Delta Air Lines started nonstops to Atlanta in 1983 with DC-9s and upgraded to Boeing 737s and MD-80s.
The Authority operated a recreational vehicle site, “Port O’ Call,” which was closed in 2003 to use the property for commercial development. The Melbourne Airport Authority operates Tropical Haven, a 760-site manufactured home park.
In 2010 the airport had non-stop flights to Atlanta on Delta Air Lines and regional partner Atlantic Southeast Airlines, as well as non-stops to Charlotte Douglas International Airport on US Airways’ regional subsidiary PSA Airlines.
These flights continued in 2019 on Delta and American. Delta used to fly non-stop from Melbourne to its hubs in Cincinnati, New York-JFK and New York-La Guardia, and to Washington-Dulles and Washington-Reagan; all of this was discontinued.
Elite Airways began operating at the airport in 2014 with flights to Washington Dulles International Airport. The airport’s first scheduled international service was announced by Porter Airlines in September 2015 to Toronto’s island airport. The airline discontinued service to the airport in 2019.
In 2017, a $20 million upgrade was proposed for the airport, 90 percent coming from FAA funds, almost $1 million from FDOT and $1 million from the airport.
In November 2019, British tour operator and airline TUI Airways announced that they would switch their Orlando operations from their current base at Sanford to Melbourne. This announcement will see a total of 17 weekly flights to/from 8 British airports and will bring their operations nearer to Port Canaveral where TUI’s Marella Cruises will sail from in coming years.
In July 2021, the airport announced the $61 million renovation and expansion, in part to prepare for the arrival of TUI Airways’ operations from the United Kingdom.
The airport covers 2,420 acres and has three asphalt runways: 9R/27L is 10,181 × 150 ft (3,103 × 46 m), 9L/27R is 6,000 × 150 ft (1,829 × 46 m) and 5/23 is 3,001 × 75 ft (915 × 23 m). The main terminal building is named the Edward L. Foster Air Terminal.
In the year ending December 31, 2020, the airport had 103,660 aircraft operations, an average of 284 per day; 93% were general aviation, 4% scheduled commercial, 2% air taxi and less than 1% military; 264 aircraft at the time were based at the airport, including 186 single-engine, 42 multi-engine, 26 jets, 9 helicopters, and 1 military.
The Florida Institute of Technology Research, Science and Technology Park covers about 100 acres surrounded by airport tenants such as Northrop Grumman Joint STARS, G.E Railway, Rockwell Collins, DRS Technologies, and L-3, and leases property to two hospitals and one hotel.
In recent years, the airport has experienced tremendous growth with new and/or expanded facilities by its major tenants, including:
• Sheltair Aviation – a hangar developer at MLB since 1988. The company has constructed numerous T-hangar buildings and several aircraft storage and maintenance hangars at the airport.
• Apex Executive Jet Center (FBO) – established a new FBO facility and aircraft maintenance hangar in 2008 (formerly Baer Air) and then expanded with another hangar and additional apron space in 2017.
• Embraer Executive Jets – the company selected MLB in 2008 to establish its North American Phenom 100 and Phenom 300 assembly and showroom facility. In 2012, the company announced a major expansion of its campus at MLB with the addition of new facilities and the Embraer Engineering and Technology Center USA for research and product development, in effect doubling its initial presence.
• Florida Institute of Technology Research Park (Florida Tech Research Park) – in 2009, the Melbourne Airport Authority and FIT set aside a 100-acre parcel for use as a technology park to enhance and expand Brevard County’s technology-research infrastructure and create jobs for the Space Coast. FIT actively promotes the Florida Tech Research Park to attract business, government, and academic allies to identify, facilitate, and accelerate innovation so it can more rapidly be brought to market.
• Kindred Hospital – the long-term, acute care hospital was opened within the Airport Industrial Park (2010)
• Discovery Aviation – since 2011, the company manufactures aircraft (Discovery XL-2 and Discovery 201) and produces aerospace composite structures at MLB
• Florida Institute of Technology Aviation Programs – located at the airport since 1968, FIT Aviation relocated and modernized its education, flight training, research, and FBO facilities (2009)
• STS Repair and Modification, LLC – established a maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) station at MLB in 2017, primarily servicing commercial service airline aircraft. They took over the 83,000 square foot state-of-the-art hangar at MLB that was previously occupied by AeroMod International.
• Northrop Grumman Corporation – located at MLB since 1987, has recently initiated a $500 million capital investment to expand its aerospace and defense-related research, engineering, development, testing, production facilities at MLB (ongoing)
• Harris Corporation’s continued investment in its headquarters located adjacent to MLB
• Other notable MLB tenants include AAR Corporation (aircraft maintenance), Southeast Aerospace (aerospace components and services), Circles of Care (hospital), Rockwell-Collins (aerospace and defense), and several technology firms, such as Ricoh USA and Revolutions Technologies.
MLB is a thriving hub for aviation, aerospace, and high-technology business. The airport’s infrastructure and engineering-oriented workforce have attracted businesses that contribute over $1 billion of annual economic impact.
Brevard County has one of the largest Foreign Trade Zones in the United States, including hubs at MLB, and offers five transportation options: space, sea, highway, rail, and air.
The area also boasts superior infrastructure for international trade including easy access to one of the busiest seaports in the country (with roll-on/roll-off capability), an extensive freight railway system, major interstate highways, plus launch pads for commercial space access.
For additional information, visit www.MLBair.com or follow @FlyMLB on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.